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A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed Thursday in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine, apparently killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard, according to Ukrainian officials, with U.S. media reports quoting intelligence sources as saying the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, after talking by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, said Flight MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was apparently "shot down...blown out of the sky" near the Russian border.
Poroshenko called it an act of terror and denied involvement by his country's military, which is engaged in fighting with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Donetsk People's Republic, a state proclaimed by the separatists, also denied responsibility for downing the Boeing 777-200, saying its forces are not equipped with weapons capable of shooting down aircraft flying at such a high altitude.
Malaysia Airlines said the B777-200 aircraft, which had been in service for 17 years, had a "clean maintenance record," with its last check carried out July 11.
Releasing the nationalities known so far of the 283 passengers, it said the unofficial list includes 154 people from the Netherlands, 43 from Malaysia, 27 from Australia, 12 from Indonesia and nine from Britain. All 15 crew members are Malaysian.
The U.N. Security Council has decided to convene a meeting on the incident as early as Friday, a diplomatic source said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country is currently a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council, said Australia will seek a binding Security Council resolution calling for a full and impartial investigation with full access to the site, the debris, the black box and "all individuals who might be in a position to shed on this terrible event."
U.S. President Barack Obama called the incident a "terrible tragedy" and pledged assistance to any international investigation, while the White House, in a statement, pointed out that the downing occurred "in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training."
In a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama criticized provocative actions being taken by Russia and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Putin, for his part, blamed the Ukrainian government for the air tragedy, telling a meeting in Moscow it would not have happened if the Ukrainian military had not resumed its offensive against the separatists, according to the presidential office.
"Certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy," he was quoted as saying.
The plane crashed near Donetsk, close to areas where there has been fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.
Major Asian and European airlines have said since the incident that they will avoid flying over eastern Ukraine.
The crash took place only months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard when it was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called the latest incident "deeply shocking" and said he had spoken about it over the phone with several world leaders including Poroshenko and Obama.
"We must -- and we will -- find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone can be left unturned. If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice," he said.
He said the Ukrainian president confirmed that his government will negotiate with the rebels to establish a humanitarian corridor to the crash site.
Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on Facebook that the Malaysian plane was hit by a missile fired from a Buk launcher while it was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters, according to media reports.
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